Matthew 4:19-20 (ESV), And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Photo above is courtesy of the Museum of Church History and Art, Walter Rane: "In Remembrance of Me"
This call was first given to Simon and Andrew, 2 fishermen who were casting their nets into the lake (verse 18). They left the nets and follow after the Lord. Likewise with James and John who left their father, Zebedee, and the boat (verse 22) after they were also called by the Lord later in verse 21. It is very precious to discover the calling of God in this life because serving Him is the most glorious thing a man could do.
We can not imagine their surprise, the first 4 disciples who were called by God, felt exciting but at the same time feeling anxious too. Full of joy to discover the Lord was willing to handpick them even though they are just ordinary fishermen. But also anxious to stare back at their father who they must leave behind at that time to answer this call.
Being a disciple of God was a great honor to be able to follow this potential and bright future Young Rabbi to go anywhere. But both Simon and Andrew, and James and John were fully aware that there was a price they had to pay to follow Him. Leaving behind their jobs, their nets and boats, even their father. The price was not cheap because they are not just children to their father, but also husband and father of their own. They had to leave their nets and boats behind, their source of (family) income to follow after the Lord and entrust God to help them provide for their families. The Bible shows us, without hesitation, they dropped everything to follow Jesus. And He went throughout all Galilee, verse 23. Not long after that, a large crowd also followed Him, verse 25.
μαθητής and תלמידים
In the original language of the Bible, a disciple is translated from this word, mathētḗs (μαθητής). This word is not for a student, the English word which means someone in the class studying, a pupil. Mathētḗs has a meaning of a person who is constantly associated (or connected, hooked) with someone who has a pedagogical reputation, a type of life learning (not a classroom style), a disciple or adherent.
Mathētḗs itself in Hebrew is talmidim, תלמידים. Talmidim means of a disciple or adherent of a religious teacher, who is not only studying the teachings of the teacher but also actively imitates his life. So a talmidim will follow around his teacher (rabbi, so-called), live with him every day. Because he supposedly imitates the lifestyle of the teacher. One time later, this disciple can also have his own talmidim to bequeath what he had learned earlier from his teacher. Therefore, being disciples of Jesus means we will not only listen and learn His teachings but also to follow and imitate the life of Jesus in our lives as well.
But today, being a disciple of Jesus has a completely different meaning. The word disciple we understand is a student, it means the one who sits to learn from a teacher. In this style, many times teaching is merely a transfer of information. This causes us to see Mary as more of an example to us for our present situation, sitting at Jesus’ feet than all the other disciples. Being a disciple of Jesus today is very much associated with being a student in a Bible school, or at least in a school of ministry. It seems like being a disciple now would need a desk, chair, black or whiteboard, books and pens, and even notebook computers with a teacher or preacher teaching in front of the class.
As much as we understand the learning system nowadays will involve a lot of process of reading (the Bible), searching, and meditating on God’s Word. We should also understand that being a disciple of Jesus would not cause us to just sit in a Bible school, but also how we can follow, imitate the life of Jesus in our lives. The main source of how we could imitate the life of Jesus is the Word of God (the Bible) itself plus real examples of the lives of God’s servants around us which have been used by God to introduce the life of the Lord Jesus to us. Yes, many of them are imperfect indeed, but at least there is God’s Word as our reference to their lifestyle.
What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?
One certain thing as being disciples of Jesus here is the ones who are called always have to leave their current state behind when they receive the call. Simon and Andrew left their nets (Matthew 4:20), James and John left their father and their boat (Matthew 4:22). Matthew left his post as a tax collector (Matthew 9: 9). The Bible does not state clearly the circumstances or the states of the other 7 disciples who were called, Matthew 10: 1-4 and Luke 6: 12-16. What is clear was that they all left something behind to follow God. But the word leave behind in the original Matthew 4:20 & 22 is not only to leave behind or to put something aside but also to be sent away. So the ones who are called to follow Him should understand that we are called not only to leave our current situation behind but to be sent out to proclaim the good news.
Many of us interpret the word leave as to leave our jobs behind. Didn’t Simon and Andrew, James and John leave their nets and boats behind? Matthew 4:20 & 22. Yes, if we go to Bible school full time we usually have to leave our jobs. Especially if we are sent to different cities to serve God’s work there, or sent to plant new churches. But now there are many night Bible schools, or online schools, where we don’t have to leave our work during the day. Wasn’t Simon also told to go back fishing to pay Temple duties or taxes? Matthew 17:27, it was a job. Even though it was only one time and the work was light, because it was just fishing. Paul was also a tentmaker on the side of his duties to preach the gospel, Acts 18: 1-3; 20: 33-35; Philippians 4: 14-16.
Part time job
In modern times like today, there are many jobs that don’t take up all of our time. Jobs that can be done in between our ministry time, part-time jobs. Also doing business where we don’t work as employees for other people. In jobs like this, we are the boss ourselves.
The problem is that not many of us could manage our time well. Lack of focus and no priority often causes God, who should be number one, to drop to the lower number of our priorities. Finally, work continues to dominate everything. Also, the discipline of having enough is not something that everyone has. Many of us, when we start to feel what money can buy for us, begin to reduce our time serving God, in order to make more. We then consider it as a blessing and an opportunity from God, we forget it is a test of whether we are still prioritizing the Lord Jesus above everything. The tests of blessing and abundance are much harder to pass than the tests of hardship and poverty.
Wasn’t Paulus saying, not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13, ESV.
We can easily testify by quoting this verse that we can endure all things after passing through a lack or hunger. But when we are going through an abundance or full stomach, we are easily fallen and leave God behind. This means we actually cannot endure everything. We don’t know how to remain faithful when everything is good, smooth, and abundant. We fail to keep prioritizing God, fail to still serve Him as number one and foremost in our lives. Should we still be called Jesus’ disciples, if our work has taken His place first in our lives?
Yes, if the work causes us to leave God behind, to set our worship times aside, causes us no longer to have enough energy to study the Word or attend night Bible school, makes us unable to focus on carrying out our duties and responsibilities in doing the service for Kingdom of God, then that job should be abandoned.
What is our priority?
Often the test of being Jesus’ disciple is not about we have to abandon our jobs. The test of being Jesus’ disciple actually comes when we have to face an option between an opportunity in our work which we know will make a lot of money with an opportunity to serve God which we know would cause us a lot instead. Will we find our substitutes for that service to God? Or do we courageously reject the option of making a lot of money (so-called a great blessing) in our work? Our decisions will show whether we are His disciples or not.
Leaving something behind, either it is a work or a past, is not something that usually happens only once. To leave something behind is a process that is repeated throughout our lives. We may be able to leave something at one time, but another (bigger) chance will come to challenge us again to prove to Him that we will remain faithful to His calling. This will continue to be repeated and we will continue to be tested with even greater things. Our decisions and loyalty will show how much we love to follow Him, how worthy we are as His disciples.
But just not working to make money doesn’t mean that I am already a disciple of Jesus. Leaving a job for Jesus does not mean being unemployed, because leaving a job for Him means that we must go to serve others as a blessing, sent by Him. But if there is a lot of free time, doing nothing, why don’t we go to work then? Didn’t Paul also work as a tentmaker? Acts 18: 1-3; 20: 33-35; Philippians 4: 14-16. The words full-time and part-time are not completely Biblical. In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi could not have land to cultivate like the other 11 tribes. This is because all of their times were dedicated to taking care of the Tabernacle of Moses, the Tabernacle of Praise of David, the Temple of Solomon. The question for us is this, do our affairs in ministry work today take up all of our time from early morning until late at night? If so, please serve Him full time. If not, if there is plenty of time you can still spend on something productive, such as working to make money, why not?
Many of us are just busy on Saturdays and Sundays for God. We practically do nothing during the day from Monday to Friday. Why don’t we go to work, use our free time for something useful? Doing a job as drivers for online transportation, real-estate agency, and insurance, multi-level-marketing jobs, and others. Even today there are many internet and computer jobs that can make a lot of money without spending a lot of time. Or have a business, our own business. This can reduce the burden on the church or congregation for us. We will also be respected more because everyone will know that we are willing to be responsible to provide for our own needs and not just begging from the people.